Ogham Studies - Beith (Birch)

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Ogham Studies - Beith (Birch)

Postby Fitheach » 04 Jun 2006, 06:48

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Lough Gur, Ireland

:beith:    

Please post your experiences, stories, meditations, inspiration, knowledge, poetry, etc. regarding the first of the ogham, the Birch tree.

I thought I'd start off with a poem.  

Beith

The loving mother Birch
Whose trunk is white as snow
In a grove more sacred than a church,
Where peace and solace grow.

Beith leads the ogham dance
Where we hear first her call
She sings her soft woodland romance
In her milky moon-white shawl.

A white candle in the deep wood
The birch stands for light and purity
A beacon, this tree has stood
From the beginning of eternity.
Last edited by Fitheach on 17 Jul 2006, 23:42, edited 4 times in total.
Tha gliocas an ceann an fhitich
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Postby Beith » 06 Jun 2006, 16:28

Hi Fitheach!

To add to your Beith thread (...couldn't resist with such a name!) some info from a chapter in my thesis.

Birch - Name & Symbolism

The birch is sometimes known as finnbheann na coille “the bright lady of the woods”. The name "birch" is attested in Indo-European and proto-Indo-European tree names (*bherH-ģ-o ) as meaning  "shining", "bright", "gleaming".
eg.
Old Norse "bjork" and "bjartr" meaning “bright”,
Slavic-Russian "berëza" , Vedic "bhūrjá",
Classical Sanskrit "Bhräjate" “it shines” and "bhurja" for birch ,
Old English "berc / birce"
Old high German "birihha" and "beraht"
Albanian "bardhë": “white”
Welsh bedwen
Irish "Beithe/Beith"

Birch appears to have an association with death and rebirth and indeed purification:

(1) Death: Ref: Peter Berresford Ellis book "The Druids" for the note on the wearing of a birch cap as the grave attire of a buried chieftain in Hochburg, Germany.

(2) Death: Also a 17th C Scottish ballad: "The wife of Usher’s well”*, tells of a widow whose dead sons return to her upon the feast of Martinmass* on 11th November notably dressed with hats made of birch. [*This date corresponded to the 1st November in the old calendar as the British calendar act (I think 1752?) moved the dates by 11 days) and so would be coincident with the feast of Samhain, the festival celebrating the return of the dead to the earth].

An excerpt is given below from that ballad first published in "Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border" (1802). Ballad text and music can be found at this website:
http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com ... s_well.htm
(notes: Carlin wife - old woman, birk - birch, syke – trench, sheugh – furrow)
"It fell about the Martinmass,
When nights are lang and mirk,
The carlin wife's three sons came hame,
And their hats were o' the birk.
It neither grew in syke nor ditch,
Nor yet in ony sheugh;
But at the gates o Paradise,
That birk grew fair enough."


(3) Purification: The "Beating the bounds" ceremonies often praticed in Britain, involved a minister blessing the farmland in a ritual blessing of protection and fertility, whilst the boundary points were beaten with birch rods, to drive out malinfluence. The maypoles of Waldpurgisnacht in Germany were often constructed of birch masts, and the besoms or small brooms often used by witches and indeed country folk of times past, are usually constructed with birch twigs for making the brush part. Similar "purification" in parts of Scandinavia I think occurs within the Sauna "tradition" of beating one's body with a birch branch after a good steam clean! and likewise in the vestiges of corporal punishment in the prison and indeed schools systems derived the phrase "to birch someone" -as in to flay them with a birch rod in punishment for a misdemeanour.

(4) Birth/Purification
I think, but I haven't attested, the use of birch in Scotland after birth, as a purification of the mother and newborn? Certainly there is a custom of proceeding sunwise around them with a hot coal or candle but I think there may be one also with the placing of birch rods across them? Maybe someone else might have more info on that?

Birch in Ogham (Ogam)

Three main tracts deal with Ogam in the manuscripts extant today:
(a) The Auraicept na nÉces "The scholars'/Poets' primer"
(b) De dúilib feda na forfid (deals with forfeadha oghams - the diphthong set added later to make 25 characters.)
(c) In Lebor Ogaim - the "book of ogham"

The mythological origins of Ogam is attributed to two persons,

(1) A semi-biblical tale of Fénius Farsaid and his scholars (found in the Auraicept) who go out into the world to study languages after the confusion of tongues at the tower of babel (Nimrod's tower). They return after 10 years and ask Fénius to identify for them a special language to be possessed of only by them...he selects a language and calls it Goidelc (Gaeilge) and created additions to it including Beithe-Luis-Nin, and as there were 25 scholars, the 25 letters were named after them.

(2) From In Lebor Ogaim, the origin is ascribed to "Ogma mac Elathan" (ogma son of the arts), a champion of the Túatha Dé Danann.
The legend tells that the first letter of ogam is birch because the first statement in ogam (seven letter Bs) was carved into a twig of birch. It was a warning to Lugh that his wife may be carried away seven times to the otherworld "unless the birch protect her" (perhaps inherent here is the notion of birch as a guardian between this life and the otherworld as also supposed above under symbolism)

The bríatharogam glosses for Beithe (little kennings about the letter)   reflecting the physical traits of the tree rather well:

Gloss 1: féochas foltchaín,  ‘the withered foot with fine hair’,
Gloss 2: Glaisem cnis , ‘greyest skin’
Gloss 3: Maise malach, ‘beauty of brow’


Brehon Law & birch
In the Bretha Comaithchesa "Law of the Neighbourhood", the birch is classed a member of the "Aithig Fedo" the Class 2 trees or ‘Commoners of the wood’ and was prized for its value in the use of birch bark to aid the tanning process of leather and in the provision of timber for plywood.

Damage to the Aithig Fedo demanded the payment of a milch cow as a fine with compensation payments based on the type of damage done to a tree and size and maturity of the tree. The Bechbretha (another law tract) gives a note that the fines were also calculated based on when a cutting or bark stripping was made, in terms of the growing season of the tree. If the tree was a "FidhNemed" a tree belonging to the "sacred" or "privileged" Nemed caste (high society - Kings, Lords, Priests, Druids, Filid), the fee would be much higher.
There used to be another law tract (sadly lost but referenced in Bretha Comaithchesa) called "Fidbhretha" ("treelaws or tree judgements") which would have dealt with the various trees, status class and fines and restorative actions to be performed if a given tree was illegally injured or cut down.

Clan associations with Birch
Ritual inauguration sites of various clans often held a Bile or tree sacred to the clan, usually with totemic associations. In the case of birch, one is recorded in the place name "Roevehagh" in Co.Galway, Ireland (anglicized name "Ruadh bheitheach" the “red birch”) as the inauguration site of chieftains in the territory of Fiachrach Aidhne, where they would be sworn in under the branches of the red birch.

Hope this is useful!

Beith

References:

PIE tree names: Friedrich, P., "Proto-Indo-European trees", University of Chicago Press, 1970
Ogam:
McManus, D. "A guide to Ogam" Maynooth Monographs 4, An Sagart, Maynooth, 1997
Brehon Law: Kelly, F., Early Irish Farming, Dublin Institute for advanced studies, 1997

For reference on birch in grave goods death custom:
Beresford Ellis, P., The Druids – A brief history, Robinson 2002 ed.
Last edited by Beith on 06 Jun 2006, 23:16, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Beith » 06 Jun 2006, 23:12

ps Fitheach - fabulous piece of poetry there. I loved it!
(and thanks to you and Donata for getting this started and Selene and the mods for implementing....question..do you think, given that there's likely to be at least 25 threads on this if indeed all ogam characters will be discussed, that it would be worthy putting as a sub-forum just like the tarot one above? Although conscious of the growing number of fora, I think as a subject itself, it is large enough to merit it. what do you think?)

Beith

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Postby Cosmic Ash » 06 Jun 2006, 23:54

In 'Tree Wisdom' by Jaqueline Memory Paterson, she mentions that birch leaves were placed under the mattress of a baby's crib for protection.

One of the things I found interesting about Birch is that it is a feminine tree. I'm not disputing this at all, but it is a tree that grows up tall very quickly and is relatively short lived compared with other trees. These seem very masculine qualities to me.
This has just started me thinking...In the thread about the High Priestess in the Tarot Study forum Robb Hawklord described the HPs as balancing the masculine within the feminine. Perhaps that is what is going on here?  :thinking:

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Postby Fitheach » 07 Jun 2006, 01:00

YAAAY, BEITH!!  I was hoping to entice you over here!!!! Thanks so much for your amazing post.  We have submitted a request for a forum, and plan to go through all the ogham.
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Postby Donata » 07 Jun 2006, 03:26

Hi Beith,

I'm so happy you joined us in the study of the Ogham! you will contribute so much!

The subforum, as you see, is now in place - t

Fitheach, thank you for agreeing to mod the sub forum!

BB
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Postby Fitheach » 07 Jun 2006, 04:42

Hi, Cosmic Ash!  I like Paterson's book, too.  We will be exploring traditional knowledge (Beith is a tremendous resource), and our own personal insights, which may or may not conflict with the traditional sources.  I personally think all the trees have both male and female aspects and it's interesting to note the non-traditional aspects, as in your post.

Donata, thank you and Selene for arranging this subforum, and thank you for co-moderating.  It is going to be exhilerating to study both the ogham and the tarot in these two forums!
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Postby Creirwy » 07 Jun 2006, 21:05

This is all from my own experience - so bare with it being 'historically inaccurate' and sourceless.

I agree with Cosmic Ash there is definately a fabulous cross over of tarot and ogham hehe! For some reason, I have always associated Birch with Libra, and I'm a libra to the core so we get along very well. There is such a balance of energy, of feminine energy but with something very masculine that I can't quite put my finger on.
Whenever I am troubled or seek strength it is my favourite birch trees I go to and sit with. Her leaves toss and turn easy in the winds like my mind, thoughts twirling in my head like her branches and leaves. Sometimes my whole mind like the whole tree sways one way or the other. We enjoy the toss and tumble the wind gives us, the chance to think over new and old thoughts - a good debate! But then we stand still, feeling the power of our trunk, our core, and our roots.

Birch always feels like a very fey tree to me as well, just too pretty and shiney in the moonlight for the fey to resist, peeling of little bits of her bark for their special blue/green glows in the night sky.

Birch always sparks that Bardic glee inside me, seeing her hair like Tina Turner and all the other big haired 80's divas, that put on a performance with a big power ballad and entertained the world :)

End of waffle.

C
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Postby Cosmic Ash » 10 Jun 2006, 22:01

Hope you'll excuse another ogham-tarot link....
The Tarot card Justice corresponds with Libra, and also Venus in Libra (Birch is also a Venus tree). This ties in with the idea that the Birch is the 'Queen of the Forest' and anyone who harmed a tree would be whipped with her branches.
Personally this isn't a side of the tree that I have experienced. I see birches as very familiar friendly trees. My Grandparents used to live by a village green that had some beautiful birches planted on it. Now when I see birches anywhere I get a little of that 'coming home' feeling.

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Postby Beith » 13 Jun 2006, 01:54

Hi there,

Just a clarification on the above in case of confusion Cosmic Ash...I wasn't saying that whipping with a birch was a penalty for harming a tree...two separate things. there were fines and restorative measures under Brehon law for illegal damage to a tree, but the "whipping with a birch" was more in light of relatively recent times, in both coporeal punishment for a misdemeanour and also a post-sauna ritual in Scandinavia as far as I know (perhaps some of our northern friends can clarify!)

Thanks very much for the reference from Paterson's book. I'm not familiar with it but will look that up. It's pretty much in line with what I understand to have been a purification custom....just as placing rowan (or alder also I believe) in a child's crib is a protection rite against abduction by síoga (fairies).

On the note of feminine/masculine associations, I reference Paul Friedrich's book on proto-IndoEuropean Tree names where he cites birch as a female virgin symbol for over 5000 years. ( I do not know where he referenced that but will try to find out).

best wishes all,
Beith

ps. Great to see the forum inaugurated and running as a forum in it's own right. Big thanks to everyone involved in its creation and admin!

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Postby Cosmic Ash » 14 Jun 2006, 20:07

Hi Beith,
Sorry for the confusion...
I wasn't referring to any actual historical happening, but to a legend that the Birch tree herself would punish those who mistreated trees

Best wishes
CA

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Postby Keriann » 03 Sep 2006, 18:32

This is the fragment of 'The Ogham Tract' from the 'Auraicept na nEces' :

'Word Ogham of Morann Mac Main here. Feocus foltchain, faded trunk and fair hair, that is for birch, b, in the Word Ogham, because names which Morann gave of himself to the Ogham letters, these are they which take the effect of letters in the Word Ogham. Feocus foltchain for b, for these are two aspects of the birch, and it was hence put for the Ogham letter which has taken a name from it.
(...)
Alphabet of word-oghams of Mac ind Oic here below.

Glaisium cnis, most silvery of the skin, that is the birch of the Ogham from birch of the forest, for hence birch, b, was put for it.

(...)
THIS IS SOW OGHAM This is group B prius.
White b (...)
RIVER-POOL OGHAM Group B. Barrow b(...)

FORTRESS OGHAM
Group B. Bruden(...)

BIRD OGHAM
Group B. besan pheasant (?), (...)

COLOUR OGHAM
Group B. ban white(...)

CHURCH OGHAM
Group B. Bangor(...)

MAN (HUMAN BEING) OGHAM
Man or hero for group B, one man(...)

WOMAN OGHAM
Heroines for group B after the same procedure (or method), one for b(...)

AGRICULTURAL OGHAM
Group B. biail axe(...)

KING OGHAM
Bran(...)

WATER OGHAM
Rivulet for group B, one rivulet for b(...)

DOG OGHAM
Watch-dog for group B, one watch-dog(...)

OX OGHAM
Bull for group B, one bull(...)

COW OGHAM
Milch cow for group B, one milch cow(...)

BLIND MAN OGHAM
The man’s name is divided, to wit,
Group B to the right side.
(...)
BOY OGHAM
Pregnant women Ogham, that is, the name of the woman is divided there unless she bear a child previously. If, however, she bear a child, it is the child’s name that is divided there; and if there be a letter over, it is a boy. If it be an even number, it would be a daughter that will be born of that pregnancy.

FOOT OGHAM
The fingers of the hand about the shinbone for the letters and to put them on the right of the shinbone for group B.

NOSE OGHAM
The fingers of the hands about the nose, viz., similar to right and left, athwart, across.

SAINT OGHAM.
The name of the Saint with which it will commence is taken for the letter, viz., Brenainn(...)

ART OGHAM.
Livelihood(...)

FOOD OGHAM, to wit,
Bread, sweet milk, etc.

HERB OGHAM, to wit,
To take the name of whatever herb it be for the letter with which it will commence, ut est, braisech, kale, for b, etc.

Head in Bush, to wit,
Consisting of a letter at the beginning of the word, i.e., as far as the name of it (the letter) resembles the beginning of whatever word it be, to write that letter at the beginning of the name for its own name; and to write the end of the name according to the proper letters. And persisting Ogham is another name for this Ogham, ut est, >-''''--,,--||||--, i.e. cert-le, ball of thread.

Head under Bush, again:
The opposite of the foregoing Ogham, to wit, consisting of a letter at the end of the name, to write the beginning of it according to its proper letters, ut est, >-/-|-||||-////-, i.e., Mael R, to wit, Ruis.

Serpent about Head, to wit,
To write the first letter of the name in the middle of the stem, and to write the name straight thence to the end of the stem; and to write it backwards to the beginning of the stem, so that it is the same thing that stands at the beginning and at the end of the stem, i.e., it is the end of the word which stands on each of them, ut est in hac figura, Ceallah, indifferent to read it up or down; and it is from the middle of it that the name is read, for there stands the first letter of the name, ut est.'
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Postby scopulus » 25 Feb 2007, 18:46

I haven't started even with the Ogham, since I don't know what uses it has. I am more and more looking into runes recently, and in time I believe the Ogham will follow up.
However, I saw a post regarding the betulae , birch , and as I just made a study about this tree I want to post it here as well.
Birch botanique name is Betulae, which is Celtic for beating. It was done by various celtic and germanic tribes, after they had a sauna. They used the twigs for beating up, so their blood would course better.

As for the leaves: you can make a thee with it for Atritis and reuma. This has to plucked in springtime, and dried.
Birchblood is pure, and can be drunk just like this. How you get a can of this juice: if the tree has a bigger then 45 cm surrounding, make a hole in it and tap it off. You can easily take like 3 litres from it like this. Offcourse: dont go back every day, the tree might die soon. Fill up the hole again with something that stops water: eq: Chewing Gum.
The water is good for cleansing the body and kidneys.  ( I looked into this for future survival tricks as well)
Germanic tribes worshipped it as either male and female powers.  Sun powers and moonpowers.
It is also known as the world tree by some cultures.

To the mods: sorry if I posted this wrong, it is for helping an above poster on info ;)
Warmest regards.
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Postby Fitheach » 05 Mar 2007, 02:12

Beith

Walking down my lane, I pass one of my favorite spots  - a grove of slim, white young birches on a neighbor’s yard.  Every time I see them, they remind me of the wonderful  birch forest bordering the lake I wandered in at Lough Gur in Ireland.

I pause on my ramble to gaze at the trees, my eyes growing soft with memories.  Then, between the trees I see a mist gathering, obscuring the house beyond.  The mist thickens, and suddenly, all that I can see is the grass, the trees, the hill; the familiar neighborhood has completely disappeared.  Two of the birch boughs touch, forming an arch, and I step through, into the pearling mist.

The mist begins to lift, but it clings to one particular tree, larger than the rest.  The white bark has a luminous glow, as if lit from within.  The mist swirls around it, forming a gown the color of dappled white and dark gray, like the bark of the tree.  Thick mist forms cascading white hair with tendrils of small oval birch leaves woven in the hair.  A face emerges from within the leaves – a lovely pale face, serene as the moon.

I stand in awe before her, for she is the very spirit of the grove.  

“Come closer.”  She beckons, and her voice is like a rippling stream, cool and clear.  I step nearer to her, and I can smell the fresh, astringent smell of birch leaves, and the deep woodsy smell underneath.  From out of the folds of her voluminous gown, she produces an exquisite small wire harp.  She strums the wires softly with her sinewy fingers, and the wires give out an almost bell like tone that reverberates among the trees, picks up the music of the rippling lake, and echoes among the stones of the hill above the grove.

The Birch woman sings in dulcet tones.  Her music brings dancing images out of the remnants of the mist between the trees.  Their voices join in the song, and her fingers quicken on the strings.  Whirling figures in sparkling white gowns dance among the trees, laughing.  A strapping figure in white breeches pulls me into the dance and swings me around in strong, stout arms until I am dizzy, giddy with delight.  He lets go my hands, and I fall, laughing at the feet of the harper.  Without pausing in her music, she introduces herself to me,

“I am Beith Gheal, the Nementona of this grove.” She tells me.  Then she stops, and the grove grows quiet.  “This is the beginning of your adventure among the sacred woods of the Inner Realm. Long, you have been a child of the greenwoods, and your journey has at last brought you to us.  If you are to be among our human priestesses, you must be initiated.

One of the glowing tree spirits approaches, bearing a  bowl made of birchwood, with its gleaming mottled bark.  Beith Gheal bids me to fill it with water from the lake.  I stride to the lakeshore and dip the bowl into the gleaming water.  I catch sight of the full moon from within the cup, and bring it back to the Nemontona.  The others stand silent and wait.

Beith Gheal lays her harp down and takes the bowl from me.  She dips her long white fingers into the bowl draws the symbol of the grove  :ch:  into the water.  The glyph in the water shimmers in light as she chants,

Beannachd na Coilltean naomh leat.  Blessing of the sacred trees upon you.”  She then anoints me with the waters on the top of my head.  I can feel the shape of the glyph on my crown chakra.  At this moment, I feel the presence of many trees in a vast forest surrounding the birch grove.  I feel a kinship with them, as if my human body were merely a disposable costume I’d donned for an arboreal masquerade.  I feel a limitless sense of roots and my canopy reaches toward the stars.  I feel an enormous sense of time, beyond the human scope; and a deep sense of anguish at the incredible losses of their kind as they are cut down around the world by human greed and folly, and the vast forests shrink day by day.

Beannachd na Beith naomh leat.  Blessing of the holy Birch upon you.”  This time she draws the symbol of the birch  :b:  on the palms of my hands, my forehead and over my heart.  At this moment, I feel my skin grow white, with mottled patches of dark brown and gray.  My arms grow long and sinewy, and the hairs turn to slim fronds, lined with oval birch leaves.  My back straightens and my feet are rooted to the ground.  My head is covered with green leaves, and I see the world from a loftier position than I am used to.  I sense my own body has become an ethereal tree spirit, encased within the white bark, to be drawn out by the music of the Nementona.  It is a delicious feeling of strength and beauty, and I realize that I would not mind at all being a tree.

I revel in the feeling until she draws on my forehead the sign of the pentacle – the sign of man.  “You are too willing to give up your human form!”  she laughs.  “And that is for another lifetime.”  Then she hands me the bowl and commands, “Drink.”

Without hesitation, I quaff the brew.  Delicious crystalline lake water, glowing with moon light, picking up the delicate quality of the birchwood bowl.  I feel refreshed and ageless, yearning for adventure.

“Fill the bowl.”  She orders.  I return to the lake and fill it once again and offer it to her.  She takes a drink and passes it to one of the erstwhile dancers.  The bowl is passed among the revelers and returns many times to the lake and back again.

She picks up the harp again, and the party resumes until the moon sinks below the hills above the lake.  The dancers stand silent and the mist transforms them once again into a birch grove.

Beith Gheal’s music had softened into a lullaby.  I sit at her feet, beginning to nod off to the haunting tune.

“I have a gift for you, “ she whispers.  She hands me her own small harp and says, “This will call the trees.  They understand the language of the harp.”  And with that, the mist envelopes her, and she becomes once again, a magnificent white birch.

Tears mist my eyes as I pick up the delicate instrument.  I strum the shining strings and it sings to me in delicate birch-like tones.  I note on the pillar the simple glyph for birch is engraved on one side, and the glyph for the grove is inscribed on the other side.  I touch the harp gently to the tree in gratitude and in my heart, I promise to plant a birch in honor of Beith Gheal.

The two arched birches stand like sentinels, and I pass through them once more, and onto the familiar lane of my neighborhood, carrying my new treasure home.
Last edited by Fitheach on 05 Mar 2007, 23:50, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Explorer » 05 Mar 2007, 08:28

What a beautiful otherworld experience Fitheach, thank you for sharing.

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Postby Fitheach » 05 Mar 2007, 23:38

Omigod.  What an incredible photo!  You are a genius with a camera.
Tha gliocas an ceann an fhitich
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Beith
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Postby Beith » 06 Mar 2007, 02:14

it's just beautiful isn't it? I think I spot a few relatives there....!

Best wishes
Beith

ps. Fitheach...v nice meditation!

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Explorer
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Postby Explorer » 06 Mar 2007, 07:57

Omigod.  What an incredible photo!  You are a genius with a camera.
no, don't give me the credit for it. This is simply how it looked and I just took a snapshot of it, all the credit goes to mother nature.

Your story reminded me of this scene. The funny thing is that this scene is very close to my forest grove, a few hundred yards. I know where it is, but I've never been able to find this exact spot again. I probably just don't recognize it due to the special foggy lightning conditions on that day (I always have to find a rational explanation ofcourse), but I also like to think that it just slipped back into the otherworld. So this image came to mind when I read your experience.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

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Fitheach
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Postby Fitheach » 06 Mar 2007, 23:20

Explorer, I think you have "the sight".  You have a way of seeing that captures natural magic, and you are able to photograph it.
Tha gliocas an ceann an fhitich
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Dryadia2
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Postby Dryadia2 » 12 Apr 2007, 22:50

I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than any city on earth - Steve McQueen


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